Managing Mental Health in the COVID-19 Era

Managing Mental Health in the COVID-19 Era

In recent years, the number of college students experiencing mental health challenges have increased due to stressors both inside and outside of the classroom. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted learning online and exacerbated many students’ feelings of anxiety, depression and social isolation. 

According to a JED Foundation survey  that collected data from two-hundred undergraduate and graduate students nationwide, 63% of students say that their emotional health has worsened since the start of the pandemic. In addition, 61% of students say the most pressing and stressful issue concerning them is civil unrest. 

Jaymielee Cruz, a second-year psychology major at Seattle University, highlighted the struggles that many students face. 

“I think the most challenging thing about being in school right now is finding the balance between my mental health (not burning out during Zoom classes), as well as, trying to somehow fulfill our college experience that was taken away from us.” 

Cruz also mentioned the difficulty students face when attempting to find moments of freedom when student lives were changed drastically and many returned home to live with their families

“For most people, college was the time to be independent, find yourself and learn about new experiences. It’s hard to believe how life can be flipped upside down and we will never really go back to ‘normal’ prior to COVID-19” Cruz said.

At Seattle U, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Campus Ministry and Health and Wellness are a few of many campus resources eager and available to help students, like Cruz, who may be experiencing mental health challenges. Students currently have to deal with a global pandemic, virtual classes, limited social interactions and continued racial and political unrest in America, making the availability of CAPS is crucial. 

CAPS director Kimberly Caluza explained the variety of free services and resources available to Seattle U students through CAPS. The department is primarily offering short-term individual teletherapy and off-campus referrals to non-Seattle U affiliated therapists and medication providers, as well as access to crisis support resources and hotlines. 

They also provide the Seattle U community with access to the Sanvello app, a self-help app for alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression; consultations with anyone concerned about a Seattle U student, outreach programing and information to the Seattle U campus about mental health issues, a video library for mental health issues and online mental health screenings.

“Anxiety and depression have been the top two reasons that students have sought services at university counseling centers across the nation for well over a decade and this continues to be the case during the pandemic,” Caluza said.

However, she also explained how the pandemic has contributed to or exacerbated many mental health problems.  

“Many people, including students and their families, are experiencing financial strain, pandemic fatigue and Zoom fatigue as a result of our COVID-created world. Everyone has experienced significant and sudden changes as a result of the global health crisis. It’s very common for students to experience disrupted sleep, changed eating patterns, amotivation, and difficulty with concentration due to brain fog related to pandemic stress. ” Caluza said. 

In addition to CAPS, Campus Ministry is helping students during these tumultuous times. Tammy Liddell, the Director of Campus Ministry, explained that they are offering one-on-one virtual pastoral care sessions in which students can talk with campus ministers from a variety of different faiths about whatever they need help with, including referrals to other campus resources.

Liddell shared that the Campus Ministry team has not seen a significant change in the number of people reaching out for pastoral care this quarter, though both returning and new students are accessing services. Campus Ministry has also been hosting virtual learning events to continue building community during this time. Events include virtual “lunch on the couch” meetings that are held several times a week for students to play games or participate in facilitated conversations. Campus Ministry has also conducted well-attended retreats online, including the recently held new student retreat, and they are planning an online search retreat.

Liddell highlighted the department’s recent self-care kit making event. 

“We held this event because we wanted students to have something tangible, take some silly putty, facial masks, candy with them, and show them that someone on campus cares for you,” Liddell said. “The event was inundated with students who came all day long. Some staff came to get candy as well. Since the event was really popular, it is not going to be the last as we will likely do it again during finals week.”

The Health and Wellness Crew (HAWK), composed of student volunteers who are trained as certified peer health educators, is another campus resource for students dealing with mental health challenges. 

While the crew hasn’t held any in-person events or webinars, they have been actively reaching out to students through Instagram and student clubs. President Jasmine O’Rourke, a third-year majoring in humanities for teaching, has been meeting one-on-one with students. O’Rourke said that the Health and Wellness Crew has seen an increase in the number of students reaching out during the pandemic. 

“We recently rolled out our ‘happy light’ program, where students were able to rent (for free) a light therapy lamp…Students were able to check out the lamps starting the last week of October and can keep them until Thanksgiving or the end of our extended winter break,” O’Rourke said. 

In addition to more explicit mental health programs, Campus Ministry is also working to engage with students to create opportunities for fun on social media. 

“Additionally, in lieu of our tradition of hosting de-stress with dogs, we are doing a social media campaign: de-stress with pets where we ask students and staff to send in pictures of their pets to be shared with our Instagram followers,” O’Rourke said. 

There will also be opportunities to tune into live events.

“This quarter we will also be sharing links to live feeds of puppies and kittens to help students de-stress and find moments of joy.” 

As the pandemic continues, Seattle U students should remember to take care of their mental health and access the many resources available to them as needed.